Depleted uranium used in munitions stored at Tooele Army Depot may find their final resting place in Tooele County’s West Desert.
EnergySolutions has requested an exemption from state administrative code to allow it to dispose of depleted uranium from munitions at its Clive Facility in Tooele County.
The Utah Waste Management and Radiation Control Board, in an emergency meeting held Aug. 30 at 10 a.m. at the Utah Department of Environmental Quality’s office in Salt Lake City, agreed to a 30-day public comment period before it acts on EnergySolution’s request.
The comment period will start Thursday and run through Oct. 9, according to Scott Anderson, DWMRC director.
The U.S. Army Joint Munitions Command wants to transport and dispose of 30 mm munitions containing solid depleted uranium metal. The munitions, DU Penetrators, will be disassembled to remove the depleted uranium metal prior to transport and disposal. The munitions are currently in storage at Tooele Army Depot and the Crane Army Ammunition Activity in Crane, Indiana, according to EnergySolutions’ letter to the DWMRC requesting the exemption.
EnergySolutions’ request is not without opposition.
The Healthy Environmental Alliance opposes EnergySolutions’ request for an exemption.
“This is the third time in a year that EnergySolutions has asked for an exemption from the laws which regulate their operations and that were put in place to safeguard public health and safety,” said Scott Williams, HEAL Utah’s executive director. “If this exemption is granted, it will establish a dangerous precedent that skirting the law is business-as-usual for EnergySolutions.”
The Utah Sierra Club also opposes EnergySolutions’ request.
“No matter which form it’s in, DU becomes increasingly radioactive over time,” said Ashley Soltysiak, director of the Utah Sierra Club. “This waste persists for millennia and eventually will violate our state standards for nuclear waste storage. Ultimately, EnergySolutions is trying to rush this process through, putting profits over human health.”
The U.S. Army plans to transport and dispose of approximately 667 cubic yards of depleted uranium waste per year for up to four years, according to EnergySolutions’ exemption request.
Uranium is a naturally occuring heavy metal. Once uranium ore is mined and the more fissionable isotopes are removed, the byproduct or remainder of the ore is called depleted uranium.
Depleted uranium has about 60 percent of the radiation of naturally occuring uranium.
Some depleted uranium is the byproduct of reprocessing spent nuclear reactor fuel, but depleted uranium itself is not spent nuclear fuel.
Depleted uranium is almost twice as dense as lead, making it useful by the military in munitions designed to penetrate armour plate.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission classifies depleted uranium as Class A low-level radioactive waste, the lowest classification of radioactive waste.
However, unlike other low-level radioactive waste, depleted uranium retains its radioactivity for a long time and the decay products of uranium become more radioactive over time.
The former Radiation Control Board adopted an administrative rule limiting the disposal of depleted uranium with more than 5 percent depleted uranium by weight to no more than one metric ton, without a performance assessment.
The DWMRC is in the process of evaluating a performance assessment for depleted uranium in uranium oxide form submitted by EnergySolutions. A determination of that assessment is not due until the spring of 2019. However, that assessment is a separate issue from this exemption request for depleted munitions, according to Anderson.
EnergySolutions states that the basis for its exemption request is that a previous site-specific performance assessment submitted in 2012 considered the disposal of significant quantities of depleted uranium at Clive, and the proposed quantity of depleted uranium penetrators will not exceed what the director of the Division of Radiation Control determined at that time to be a significant quantity. Also, depleted uranium metal and oxide has already been safely disposed of in small quantities at Clive, the proximity of Clive to Tooele Army Depot would reduce risks associated with transportation, and depleted uranium metal is less dispersible than the previously considered uranium oxide.
Public comment may be submitted to the DWMRC by email at email@example.com. The public should include “public comment for EnergySolutions exemption request for DU munitions” in the subject field. Any attachments should be sent as either text or pdf files.
The announcement of the public comment period will be printed in the Transcript Bulletin, according to Anderson.